Academic journal article Making Connections

Faceless: Amma Darko's Face for the Faceless

Academic journal article Making Connections

Faceless: Amma Darko's Face for the Faceless

Article excerpt

Faceless (2003), Amma Darko's gendered text about the tragic experiences of children on the mean streets of Accra, opens with a wrenching rape scene at the Agbogbloshie market. In shocking and lurid details, Darko's narrative captures the horrid reality females, especially young teenage girls, endure and cannot escape. The almost surrealistic scenery of the rape act translates as vicious and relentless violations of the female body and desperate efforts of very young girls to defend their feminine space. The opening scene marks an attempt to crush the female body. This startling opening narrative signifies Darko's artistic predilections. Darko will not rein in her voice as the issues confronting her subjects are urgent and alarming. There is no taboo subject in Darko's artistic disposition. Her unbridled language measures the seriousness of her subject.

Darko's emergent voice gives a new feminist perspective on the issues of gender and class in contemporary African writing. She explores a recurrent theme of sexual exploitation of the most vulnerable members of society. Throughout her fictional works (Beyond the Horizon, 1995; Housemaid, 1998; Faceless, 2003; and Not Without Flowers, 2007, sexuality becomes an overarching metaphor to examine the values of Ghanaian society. Faceless surpasses the other works in artistic intensity and complexity. In this novel, Darko defines feminine sexuality in terms of a complex trope of transformation from voicelessness to voice and movement beyond facelessness to attain face or personhood.

Darko's writing about the experience of African women constitutes a clear departure from its expression in early African literature as a symbol for pristine beauty In contrast to Leopold Senghor (Chants d'ombre, 1945- Shadow Songs. Edition du Seuil, 1945; Nocturnes (1961), translated by John 0. Reed and Clive Wake, 1969; Leopold Sédar Senghor- Selected Poems, translated by Reed and Wake, 1964), and Camara Laye's L'Enfant Noir, 1954-The Dark Child, translated by James Kirkup, Ernest Jones, and Elaine Gottlieb, 1954, Darko dispenses with tendencies to beatify the African woman, as such essentialist constructs of the African woman are paternalistic. Her female characters do not play peripheral roles in narratives about their own experience. Rather, the women in Darko's fiction are assertive in seizing narrative threads and in weaving stories about their own lives.

In Darko's novels, women burst through the veil of tradition to establish their voice and identity. Quite similar to her female compatriots, Efua Sutherland (The Marriage ofAnansewa and Edufa, 1967); and Ama Ata Aidoo (Anowa, a play based on a Ghanaian legend, 1970; Our Sister Killjoy, 1977, Darko gives a realistic account of the daily struggle of the Ghanaian woman. However, unlike Aidoo and Sutherland, who maintain propriety and guarded stance, Darko writes graphically and explicitly about sexual matters. Darko sets aside the conventions of traditional African society, which often calls for decorum, to speak about issues that unsettle her audience. She wades into such controversial subjects as AIDS, child rape, prostitution, and polygamy.

Consistent with the general trend in contemporary Ghanaian writing, Darko focuses on the social malaise in Ghana since independence. However, while her predecessors, Ayi Kwei Armah {The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, 1968) and Kofi Awoonor {This Earth My Brother, 1971), represent in broad terms the frustrations, emptiness, and ennui in Ghana, Darko depicts these same issues at deeply felt individual levels. In another marked distinction, Darko seeks a way out of this prolonged nightmare by rendering women visible and by creating feminine voice and space. She urges women to revive their voice to sustain their lives. The women in Faceless are stigmatized, yet they engage in courageous acts to throw off the yoke of oppression in a male-dominated society.

In Faceless, Darko writes with urgency about the predicament of a cadre of very young children who eke out a living on the streets of Accra. …

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